It seems like only yesterday that Damon Albarn was the fresh-faced boy wonder fronting Blur. For all their success as Britpop’s finest, little about their oeuvre suggested there was any great depth to Albarn or that he had any interest in being anything other than a chart act.
Since then, of course, Albarn has been engaged in one critically acclaimed sonic adventure after another, fronting The Good, the Bad and the Queen and founding the virtual band, Gorillaz. He has also penned operas and film soundtracks and is now something of an institution, one of those lovable eccentrics, like Brian Eno, who pops up where you least expect him. The surprise is not that Albarn has finally released a solo album, but that it has taken him so long.
Everyday Robots is a surprisingly sedate affair. It ambles by pleasantly enough, but makes no attempt to grab you by the throat. The title track, with which the album opens, sets the tone for much of what follows. Albarn’s enunciation recalls that of John Lennon as he rails (quietly) against the dominance of technology in contemporary culture. ‘Lonely Press Play’, somewhat improbably, name-checks Lady Di after opening with one of Albarn’s more intriguing couplets: “Arrhythmia/Accepting that you live with uncertainty.” There are several weak, indulgent, moments on the album. ‘Mr Tembo’ is a children’s song, written for a baby elephant in Tanzania, and one must wonder at Albarn’s decision to include it here, given that he composed 60 songs for the project.
The stronger tracks include ‘The Selfish Giant’, ‘Photographs’, and ‘You And Me’, which recalls both the Beatles and Bowie as their most meditative.
Albarn’s pulse finally quickens on the penultimate track, ‘Heavy Seas of Love’, a collaboration with the aforementioned Eno. Not that this is anything as crass as a rock song, but it certainly feels like the one track whose composition compelled Albarn to rise from his piano stool. And it does mean that an album full of minor disappointments finishes on a positive note. “Radiance is in you,” Albarn croons. “As above, so below, on the heavy seas of love.”